In the spring of 2001, we fell in love. Within three weeks, we moved into a lovely little apartment on Nob Hill. We had no regard for the “rules” of dating during our late night chats on the fire escape. Under the stars, or more often surrounded by fog, we would discuss our children not yet conceived, our roles in a marriage not yet arranged, and the many places near and far not yet traveled. But most exhilarating was our shared desire to live abroad. In some ways, it conflicted with our personalities. He craves order and routine. I am a planner of the most fastidious sort and sometimes struggle to remain in the moment. However, from our divergent characteristics sprung a uniform belief in raising bilingual children and instilling in them an appreciation and respect for people and cultures around the globe.
Through dedication and a sprinkling of good fortune, we followed through on the vision developed in our first months together. We were married in Italy a year and a half after our first meeting, we tried to have two children but ended up with three (“I’m having twins?!!”), and all three currently attend a French immersion school in the Bay Area.
On date night, our dream of living in France was often a topic. My husband, an economic consultant, was having a lull in his motivation for work and needed to reboot. Me, a stay at home mom, felt a sense of urgency to our plans. Within a couple of years, our daughter would be a tween not likely enthusiastic about jettisoning her social network and starting from scratch in a foreign country. Our twins, two years old, were the perfect age for foreign language immersion. They could barely speak English, so why not pile on a second language while their brains were in absorption mode.
The trigger was pulled and we started to make plans for our long awaited year abroad. We rented a home in the French countryside complete with stone walls, swimming pool and fruit trees. We applied for long stay visitor Visas (12 months), and enrolled our children into the local schools in our neighboring village of 800 inhabitants. We kissed our house and bid our friends and family au revoir. Some of us (viz. my husband) speculated we might not return after just one year.
We are currently 8 months into our year in France. The experience has not mapped precisely our imagination, but then again, to expect otherwise does not seem all that realistic. There have been surprises aplenty, pleasant and unpleasant, but overall France will always hold a special place in our hearts and we will look forward with great excitement to each and every return trip.
An unexpected benefit from our time in France is a rekindled love of California – our home now and forever. The place where we first entered the world, grew up, went to school, worked and fell in love. The place that so many of our family and friends call home. In some ways, as much as our year in France has been life-changing and memorable and wonderful, coming home will be one of the highlights of our trip.